What difference does a single letter make?

I’m surprised that people continue to argue about the need for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you’re in any doubt, try working as a proofreader.

We regularly proofread material produced by companies, councils, universities, schools and other organisations, and frequently grind to a halt because we can’t understand something.

In novels or poems, writers sometimes aim to entertain through using language that is a challenge to understand. This is not the case for companies or organisations dealing with customers who need information fast and in an easy-to-understand format.

So when you read a brochure or letter where you have to stop, go back and re-read a sentence three times to figure out what the writer is trying to say, you know that something needs changing. Perhaps there’s a word missing, a plural noun with a singular verb or three sentences crammed together in one.

Rather than being there to annoy us, spelling, grammar and punctuation aim to make text easier to read and understand. They can also make reading and writing more enjoyable and more effective, especially for companies producing marketing material to sell their products and services.

Accuracy is also very important. Would it matter to you if you published an advert with one wrong digit in the postcode? Would it make any difference if a newspaper published the wrong date for an event you were holding? (This happened to me recently – it was the newspaper’s mistake.)

If we use the language tools available to us to make our material as easy to understand as possible and we check all details to make sure our material facts are correct, we do all we can to help our communications achieve the best results for business.

After our last blog, have you decided how well print and digital communications work for you?

z2zine tomorrow: What is there say about my business?

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Starting conversations

So much can start with a conversation. In fact, no business can survive without conversations to communicate with its suppliers, employees and customers.

Communication is the basis of all business.

Whatever your business does, you have to communicate with banks or lenders to obtain finance, with staff to enable your business processes to operate smoothly and with customers so that they buy your product. A conversation ensures communication is two-way, enabling you to receive feedback from the other person, which can help you to improve what you do. One-way communication, when you tell people whatever you want, can risk deterring supporters and suppliers, upsetting staff and driving customers away.

z2zine today looks at a different aspect of communication every day to see what businesses can do to converse more effectively. Better communications can lead to better business, so there’s a big incentive for us all to develop and improve our conversations.

But where do we start?

Take André Preneur, an imaginary business owner, whose company is stagnating. He’s got a stationery cupboard full of brochures designed and printed six months ago, a web site that was launched two years ago and an order book that’s not very full. What can André do instead of sitting in his office with his door closed, worrying about how to get new orders to pay his suppliers’ invoice and his employees’ wages? He doesn’t have much of a marketing budget and he’s already placed adverts in local directories. What else is there?

The answer is: a lot.

And it doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Just updating the web site is a start. Is the information current? Are prices correct? And what about those brochures? Do they promote products or services new to customers? When was the last time customers were contacted? Could they be sent a brochure to jog their memories, excite their interest and continue the customer conversation?

Simple examples, perhaps, but there are many things that every business can do to keep conversations flowing.

And it’s not just with customers. Conversations with employees need to continue as well. When markets are challenging, businesses depend on their people more than ever before, so treating them well is important, especially if additional flexibility and co-operation are needed.

What can I do today?

Conversations require effort to develop over the long term, but there are also quick, easy actions we can take every day. One thing we can do straight away is to make sure everything is up to date. So how about looking over your web site, deleting expired offers and old events, checking prices and current offers? And how about your printed material and stationary? Are addresses, prices, offers all current? Do you have new products you’re not promoting, but need to promote? And if you have boxes of brochures doing nothing, how about distributing them, either by mail or by your sales people or customer service staff?

All these actions are a start. Once begun, it’s much easier to continue conversing.

 

What does your software NOT do?

Oh, the joys of upgrading computers. For every opportunity to improve efficiency there is a corresponding incompatibility that requires sorting out. A new machine probably also means a new version of the operating system, which subsequently means a new version of most of the software you use. Without this the IT industry would probably not exist.

Another problem is that, when evaluating new software, the marketing material and web sites often tell you what a system can do but not what it can’t. One option is to download a trial version and test it, but this only increases dissatisfaction when you find it does 99% of what you want but not the vital 1% you need. Then you have to start checking out the uninstall instructions, if there are any.

So, while it’s nice to see fancy graphics, screenshots and videos, it’s important that software companies balance the fluffy, exciting feel of using a new system with essential details of its capabilities and practical operation. While I dislike getting underneath the bonnet of my car, I need to know that occasionally I have to fill it up with a specific type of fuel.

Get it right and, if the software is as good as the developer says, more people should buy it because they will be more confident about what it can do for them.

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